European discount airline Germanwings has a practice it calls “Blind Booking”. The concept is straightforward. Essentially you don’t know your destination city until after you have booked the flight. But for €33 (approximately $37) each way you get pretty cheap tickets in exchange for a bit a flexibility. This is basically the airline version of practice used by hotel booking sites where you pick a general location and category of hotel and receive a discount because you don’t know the exact hotel you are booking with.
The service is offered from six German cities, so it’s only available on a small portion of their flights. First you select your departure city. Next you pick from one of the six destination categories offered by Germanwings. (Gay-friendly, Party, Culture, Shopping, Metropolis, and Nature, Trekking and Hiking).
You can see the cities that each category offers and, for €5 extra, you can narrow the list down to three cities. Each destination category has a slightly different mix of cities, though there is quite a bit of overlap. From there you enter your dates, available 45 days out, whether you want to check bags or pick your seat for an additional fee, and your personal information. Once you purchase the ticket you find out where you’re headed.
Of course, you have to take the good with the bad. There is a real possibility of going to a city you actually dislike or getting stuck with early morning or late night flights. But for those with a little flexibility (and perhaps some extra time off to account for flight times) Blind Booking offers an additional discount and a little adventure.
Germanwings’ fleet is only equipped with economy seating but offers three tiers of ticketing: Basic, Smart, and Best. Basic provides for no checked baggage and no free catering. Smart offers one checked bag and free snacks and drinks. Best offers something more similar to business class with preferred seating in the front of the plane, two checked bags, lounge access, and a free meal. This appeals to the more budget conscious traveler that may be willing to pay a bit more for better quality service. With Blind Booking, Germanwings is creating a dual brand. The airline is also reaching out to a younger population that might have a little less cash. The categories are clearly oriented to a young-adult audience, with categories like “Party” and “Gay-friendly” and sharp photos adorning the web page. Blind Booking is an attempt by Germanwings to fashion itself as an airline for the spontaneous and adventurous. At the same time the airline is not completely rebranding, hoping to hold on to existing customers.
Blind Booking appears to be great branding and business decision for Germanwings. The service is popular with expats and students looking to see more of Europe but not too particular about where they go. The offer also gets potential customers to the website where they will also see other offers and perhaps decide to purchase a higher priced ticket. Through Blind Booking, Germanwings gets to pick the destination which allows them to fill seats that would otherwise be empty without decreasing prices across the board for its other customers. And, by getting customers to book through the airline, Germanwings has another tool in the ever greater airline industry fight against sharing ticket prices with online booking sites.